Friday, September 8, 2017

Genesis 3 and the Origin of the Term "Fall"

The Exile of Adam and Eve

By John Sanidopoulos

In the book The Story of Original Sin by John Toews (2013), we read:

'The interpretation of Genesis 3 as a "fall" reflects a much later Christian understanding which has been read back into the text; the term “the fall” was first used with certainty to describe the sin of Adam by the Greek church father Methodius of Olympus, late third or early fourth century (d. 311), as a reaction to Origen’s teaching of a pre-natal fall in the transcendent world. In other words, a "fall" theology about the interpretation of Genesis 3 begins to develope about six to eight centuries after the probable writing of the original Genesis 3 story in a totally different setting and for a totally different purpose (many more centuries later if Genesis 3 is dated to the tenth century BCE). Why is it profoundly significant that this much later Christian and Greek “fall” construal is not stated or even suggested in the text? Because that means the story of salvation history, which is a fairly normative interpretive framework for a Christian reading the whole Bible does not begin with “the fall.” Rather, it begins with broken relationships and exile, which is a very Jewish way of reading the text. And lest we forget, it was Jewish people who wrote this text originally for Jewish people, probably for Jewish people living in exile trying to understand the profound tragedy of the destruction of their country, the Temple, many of their fellow countrymen, and their exile in Babylon. The re-definition of the story of Genesis 3 as a "fall" represented a much later Hellenistic-Gentile re-interpretation of the text.

The sin in the Adam and Eve story is mistrust and disobedience of God that results in fractured relationships, in estrangement from God, from each other, from some animals (e.g., the snake), from creation (e.g., the land). Sin (though, let's remember the word is not used in the text of the story), in other words, is defined in relational terms, not ontological terms.'

St. Methodius of Olympus

Elsewhere he writes:

'[Methodius of Olympus] was the first person to use the term "Fall" to describe the sin of Adam. The new word had enormous consequences; it implied an exalted condition before Adam disobeyed God, an implication which the biblical and early patristic word "transgression" (parabasis) did not have. Methodius was also the first to use the word "corruption" or "disintegration" (phthora) to describe the consequences of the fall on creation; he probably took the word from Romans 8:21.'

Therefore, the 'fall' is hardly the concept that the Hebrew intentionally transmitted; for the Hebrew it was an EXILE ... not a fall. This concept of exile is still dominant in the Orthodox Christian tradition, though the concept of fall is dominant in the Roman Catholic Church, where the teaching of original sin is emphasized. This doctrine of original sin teaches a fall from perfection, whereas the Orthodox tradition sees the ancestral sin of Adam and Eve as preventing humanity from attaining perfection, and thus exiled from achieving such attainment prematurely.

Methodius of Olympus used the term as a reaction to Origen's use of the term, who taught the Platonic teaching that preexisting souls fell from the transcendent world and was fettered to bodies because of their preexisting sin. Instead, Methodius, who did not teach the Roman Catholic understanding of original sin, meant the term 'fall' simply to convey the notion of calamity. Methodius' teaching was much in line with the Greek Fathers before him, including Irenaeus, namely, that Adam was created immature and childlike. He held an idea of inherited corruption (phthora) through Adam which was vague and would be picked up later by Athanasius, but he preserved the freedom of human will.